Saturday, October 27, 2007

Is Recycling That Hard?

Friday is trash day in my neck of the woods. So each Thursday night, I, like all of my neighbors, go through that time-honored tradition of dragging barrels out to the curb. In our case, it's more accurate to say barrel (single). For a family of four, I take a little pride in putting out one barrel's worth of trash. After filling up our green and blue recycling bins (with proper sorting of materials, of course) and dumping all our organics and food scraps in the compost pile, we're only generating one or two bags of trash each week. Not bad considering the average American throws away 4.5 pounds of trash a day.

What I'm still amazed at though is how many households just have a barrel at the curb. No green or blue recycling bins to brighten up the scene. So my question is: Why are people not recycling? Is it sheer ignorance? Laziness? A combination of both, or something else altogether?

When I was part of Tiverton's Recycling Committee a few years back we struggled with that same question. Granted, I’ll say that at the surface you do see more bins out there with each passing year, but we can do – and need to do – better. According to the EPA, only 32% of America’s waste is recycled.

Really, it comes down to changing behavior. Of course, that's easier said then done. Whether you're trying to eat healthier, start exercising, or throwing your soda bottles in a blue bin instead of the trash, the premise is all the same. I think the key to all of this is to start early and have good role models.

The logical place to start is at our schools. That requires that recycling (paper, plastic, aluminum at a minimum) be mandatory. End of story. From a business point of view, it makes good economic sense to recycle and reduce your waste hauling costs. (The Tiverton School Committee can't even figure out Contracting 101, so improving recycling is not even hitting their radar.) But once that problem is taken care of, we should start in kindergarten and teach our kids the why's and how's of it all. Put a bin in each classroom. Give them gold stars for tossing their stuff away correctly. Reward the behavior and it becomes second nature. We all want to receive praise and accolades.

You know what happens next? Domino effect. Kids go home and give their parent(s) guilt trips, wear at them in that way that kids do until the breaking point. Before long, that household has bins at the curb on trash day. Or maybe they are recycling more. At the end of the day, we have our next generation being part of the solution instead of the problem.

So, I ask you: Why is recycling that hard?

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Tube for Tuesday: Greening Our Schools (Part 2)

On the heels of an earlier post, I came across this amazing video showcasing a new green school in Washington, D.C. The Sidwell Friends School built a new middle school that achieved a Platinum LEED Certification rating (the highest). But beyond the building and grounds, what makes Sidwell stand out is its students and how they have embraced an academic curricula that has environmental stewardship as one of its four cornerstones.

You can learn more about the Sidwell Friends School and their green middle school here.

Let's face it. Our kids are smart, aware, and eager to make their mark. They are going to have to inherit the mess the rest of us are making. Why not prepare them well for this challenge and channel their energy and enthusiasm in the right direction.

Are you a teacher or parent who feels the same way? Drop me a line -- I'd like to see what we can do to make a change in our schools.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Event Notice: Newport Energy Film Festival

Sorry about the late notice but I just came upon this in the Newport Daily News. Jane Pickens Theater and the Sierra Club have teamed up to present four movies with energy related themes back-to-back tomorrow night. Doors open at 6:00 PM with the first show starting at 6:10 PM. For background on the event, read the article.

I won't be able to make it, but if you go, let us know how it was.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Green Building: Where is Our Planner Now?

Here is a new website I just came across: Green Building Blocks. It's dedicated to everything around environmentally sustainable building. As someone who has gone through a remodel recently, I wish I had discovered the site sooner. You can search across the company for green building materials, architects, designers, and everything in between. There is content to help improve your own building skills, plus great video of green designs in action for that shot of inspiration.

We did our best to build green given our budget: passive solar design of our kitchen to maximize the sun and shade, bamboo floors, energy-efficient windows, and Energy Star-rated appliances. We could have done more if the money was there – you can always do more – but every little built helps.

But this got me thinking in terms of all the new development going on in Tiverton. I live close to the new neighborhood being built off Lake Road. Then there is William Barton Preserve and the early-stage development off of Fish Road. When you drive through these (Fish Road one aside for now), what do you see? The cookie-cutter recipe for most new development: Big (really big) houses on clear-cut plots; en vogue architecture (for some; most look straight out of a Sears catalogue) in lieu of sustainable design. Granted, we can't see the inside to know what's going on, but I can't imagine most of these developers approach their projects with green lenses.

This is wrong and irresponsible. End of story. In an earlier post some months ago, I commented on a presentation I saw given in part by our town planner, Chris Spencer. He spoke of a vision for Tiverton -- one that partnered with other communities throughout the state to usher in smart growth, responsible development, and protection of our natural resources. One part of his two-prong strategy focused on “form codes” that strive to positively impact building design.

So where is that strategy in action? The Town should require—at a minimum—all new development to integrate some level of green building into its design. Eventually, remodels of a certain size and scope should fall under that umbrella as well. If you’re going to build McMansions, then they should employ some way to offset their humongous environmental footprint. Heck, with prices averaging around the $500,000 mark, these prospective buyers can afford to be at least a little bit green. (We'll save commentary on pricing out certain demographics and creating an homogeneous community for a later post. But here's to increasing the residential tax revenue, right??)

Now, I have not read through the entire town's master planning document, so I could be in the wrong. But if language is in there about building green, we’re certainly not seeing it come to fruition.

The breath of fresh air in all of this are the pockets of apparent sustainable development in and around town. Smaller designs and no clear-cut plots are a good start. Think of the neighborhood off Old Crandall Road, that new house next to the fire station on East Road, or the eventual artist’s community.

But where is Mr. Spencer? Where is the leadership? If there are obstacles, let's hear about them and figure out a way to get rid of them. In this situation, no news is definitely NOT good news. His silence is deafening.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Tube For Tuesday: Saving the Landfill One Diaper at a Time

It's been a busy week, hence no in-between post, but had to pass along a few good clips. Why am I thinking about babies and diapers? Not sure, as my kids are just about out of them. But when I saw these clips, especially the first one showing the composting experiment, it got me thinking about Tiverton's landfill and its eventual maxing out. With over 15,000 residents and over 4,400 designated families (Source:, how many diapers do you think are hitting that landfill each day? Every little bit helps, no?

Now, I'll be the first to admit that going the cloth diaper route is a commitment and not for everyone (we did not do it), but by the looks of these clips, they have come a long way since we looked into them even a few years ago.

The first clip is a promo from G Diapers. I'm not promoting any brand, but you have to love the composting experiment:

The second clip is from the ABC affiliate in Pittsburgh and showcases some green diaper options:

Until next Tuesday...